Youth Engagement Showcase Finalist: Megan Raftis

by Rural Ontario Institute 28. January 2016 12:14

Megan Raftis grew up in Harriston, Ontario, a small rural community of about 2,000 people located in Wellington County. Megan is active in the local arts community through her involvement as local youth representative on the Minto Cultural Roundtable where her experience and age provide a unique perspective to this committee. This group supports culture in the community and Megan has been active in helping with storytelling events, culture days and a variety of other activities.

We’re bringing cultural events to town, highlighting those that already exist and opening them up to more people. I like the idea of highlighting culture in small rural communities. It’s not necessarily the first thing you think of when you think of rural Ontario, but there are definitely unique opportunities worth pursuing and worth bringing to wider rural audiences. I just like the idea of opening that side of the town up to more people

It is Megan’s specific interest and experience in theatre, that has inspired her to bring new youth programming to Harriston, contributing to a more inclusive and vibrant community and filling an existing void. Megan has been volunteering her time with the Harriston summer youth theatre program for 5 years.

In communities like Harriston, organized recreational opportunities for young people outside of competitive sports are often limited, but thanks to Megan, there is now the opportunity to join another kind of team. Having been introduced to theatre at an early age through her family’s involvement with the local community theatre, Megan Raftis set out in the summer of 2010 at the age of 19, to deliver the same type of fun and enriching experience she grew up with, to local youth. Already an experienced performer and veteran backstage hand, Megan decided to cast and direct a production involving exclusively youth actors.

The response was overwhelming and, with some assistance from her mother, an actor, director and president of the Grey Wellington Theatre Guild (GWTG), she put 19 actors onstage, ranging in age from six to 16, drawn from five surrounding communities, in the quirky David Mamot comedy Revenge of the Space Pandas.

With another extremely positive strong response and favorable reviews from both participants and parents, Megan set out the following year to make this experience accessible to even more young people. By writing the next play herself, Megan was able to tailor the cast size to the number of youth who had already auditioned. The 2011 production of Amy May Runs Away provided 24 young actors and actresses the opportunity to learn about stagecraft and experience the thrill of live theatre. Writing the plays also solved another problem, namely the lack of good scripts written specifically for youth casts and particularly large casts.

I grew up in the theatre but I don’t sing a note, and so there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me to be on stage as a kid. I like the idea of bringing opportunities to a wide variety kids who aren’t necessarily musically inclined. I cast large plays and I tailor them to the cast we get at auditions.

Megan has since written the script for each succeeding production, and the continued growth keeps Megan busy writing and re-writing the plays to ensure there are enough parts available. The goal is to provide a theatrical experience for as many youth as are interested. Through Megan’s work, she has created new opportunities not only for youth in Harriston, but far beyond, where interested community theatres may now see opportunity in performing their own stagings of her scripts.

As the young actors have so enthusiastically enjoyed their experiences in theatre, they continue to return year after year. Since its inception, many parents have expressed their gratitude to Megan and the guild for providing a creative outlet for children who have sometimes struggled to find their niche. Creating access to opportunities in theatre has been important for many local youth, as it gives them a chance to have fun, while gaining self-confidence and skills that can be transferred to so many different aspects of their lives.

When they first arrive, many are quiet and shy, so you can put them in smaller roles; you build their confidence to the point where after a couple of summers they’re the stars of the show. And you see this when you see the kids out in the community too.  Many of the kids from summer theatre have auditioned to be ambassador for the local fall fair; I know there are some who wouldn’t have had the confidence, or even thought they would enjoy something so public and performance based.

Through these theatre productions, children learn how to work as a team, the importance of commitment and hard work and the benefits they receive as a result. Many of the children have gone on to become involved in other theatre productions or have used the skills to help other younger children in a leadership or mentoring role. The youth theatre program has proven a boon to both the participants and the guild, which now has a steady supply of local young people growing up with interest and experience in the dramatic arts.

Youth Engagement Showcase

The Youth Engagement Showcase has collected nominations of engaged youth, aged 29 and under, from rural communities across Ontario. Four finalists have been selected to be featured in a short video documentary. The Youth Engagement Showcase will profile some compelling stories of youth engagement to highlight the impact these young leaders can have in their local communities and to demonstrate how rural communities of various shapes and sizes, are successfully engaging and supporting youth in addressing local challenges.

Youth Engagement Showcase Finalist: Branden Trochymchuck

by Rural Ontario Institute 26. January 2016 15:25

Branden Trochymchuk has been described by colleagues as an intelligent, articulate, well-rounded, and driven young man who embraces life and constantly challenges himself to learn and grow. Branden is 16 years old and attends Grade 11 at St. Ignatius High School in Thunder Bay and spends summers in the Township of Hornepayne, 450 km northeast of Sault Ste. Marie.

Branden is involved in a wide variety of different programs and organizations, volunteering much of his time outside of school. Branden is one of 60 Student Advisors to the Ministry of Education and regularly attends conferences in Toronto to participate in roundtable discussions on various policies or initiatives being developed by the Ministry. As a part of this position he is also the leader for the SpeakUp Forum Student Team at his school, a program created by the Ministry to obtain feedback from students. Branden is a firm believer in strengthening the student voice, and continues to coordinate sessions in schools throughout his region to empower students to get involved in their schools.

Branden belongs to Common Bond, a social justice group at his school where they participate in clothing drives, Christmas Cheer and visit the homeless shelters. Through Common Bond he is also the Catholic Leadership Day Facilitator (an annual event) as well as a Grade 8 Retreat Facilitator. He is the Safe/Accepting Inclusive School Committee Student Rep for his high school and a Natural Helper for the Student Assistance Program. He has taken the Safetalk Suicide Alertness Training and is a Canadian Red Cross Beyond the Youth facilitator. It has always been important to Branden that troubled teens have someone to turn to, knowing that sometimes, kids will turn to a peer before turning to an adult. A big part of this position is being able to direct his peers to the appropriate source of help in a gentle and timely manner. Branden is also a facilitator of Cyber Seniors, a program to help seniors with social media, computers, cell phone usage, etc. To top this all off, Branden now has a part-time job. 

Branden is continually finding new ways to get involved in his local community. With a strong interest in history and politics Branden also has aspirations to one day, serve as a Member of Provincial Parliament. “I just want to make a difference and be an active person in my community”, says Branden. For now, Branden is focussed on school as his top priority but continues to balance a busy schedule, continuing always with his volunteer work.

Youth Engagement Showcase

The Youth Engagement Showcase has collected nominations of engaged youth, aged 29 and under, from rural communities across Ontario. Four finalists have been selected to be featured in a short video documentary. The Youth Engagement Showcase will profile some compelling stories of youth engagement to highlight the impact these young leaders can have in their local communities and to demonstrate how rural communities of various shapes and sizes, are successfully engaging and supporting youth in addressing local challenges.

Youth Engagement Showcase Finalist: Emily Morrison

by Rural Ontario Institute 21. January 2016 11:48

Emily Morrison hails from Lucknow, Ontario and currently resides in Beaverton, Ontario – a small rural community nestled in Brock Township, along the shores of Lake Simcoe. Emily’s story for the Youth Engagement Showcase features not only her own involvements in her community, but some of the youth programming she has been instrumental in developing as well – programming that engages youth in the community, while fostering important entrepreneurial skills they will retain as they carry on in their lives.

Emily has a diverse resume, beginning with her roots on the family strawberry farm.  Managing a farm market, interacting with the public and grocery stores, and managing a bakery, all had a significant impact on Emily’s love for entrepreneurship. Building on her experience with the family farm, Emily started a small business while in university running her own ice cream parlour.

I didn’t realize how much the farm was a business at the time. I was born into it and it was my way of life, so I didn’t understand everything I was learning at the time. When I took some business classes in university, we studied things like HR, finance, scheduling and interacting with suppliers – it just hit me that this is stuff I had been doing since I was ten years old, working in the farm market and the family business. I had been doing these almost my entire life.

In 2014 Emily was contracted by the Brock Youth Centre (BYC) to help revitalize the centre and to build a culture of entrepreneurship among local youth. Emily, alongside colleagues at the Brock Youth Centre, has pioneered a hands-on training facility to teach entrepreneurship skills to local youth. In her role, Emily has helped youth to start businesses around photography, metal art, pottery, skateboard lessons, arena concessions and a very successful ice cream store – Cool Cow Ice Cream Parlour. Emily has been able to work one-on-one with local youth to develop cohesive business plans, acting as an advisor and mentor, sharing her own life experiences to inspire and guide them.

The Cool Cow Ice Cream parlour is a tool for the BYC in teaching hands on entrepreneurial skills. The students who have been enrolled in the Cool Cow program have learned human resources skills through coordinating interviews and hiring additional staff as needed. They have gained experience with financial management, inventory control, food handling, scheduling and customer service. Emily has brought in local speakers to help teach the students about topics such as liability insurance, fire safety and health regulations. The students also won a local Economic Development initiative when they presented their business plan to a panel of judges, receiving $4000 for facade improvements for their store.

We now have people approaching us to bring this same model to run concession stands for arenas and baseball fields. Everyone is taking a lot of pride in what we’re doing and this has helped bring a stronger sense of community to the town.

The Cool Cow Ice Cream Parlour has certainly had tangible results throughout the broader community of Beaverton. The building it now occupies had been vacant for seven years. Students have taken time to patch the walls, paint the interior and have improved the streetscape, taking over a side alley to build seating for their clients. This activity along the main street of Beaverton has boosted community morale, and fostered support from other local businesses who have contributed to the building makeover through donations, ranging from paint, to ice cream coolers, to skilled labour

Other store owners will often check in to make sure the kids across the road are ok. I think this project demonstrates that our youth have a value to the community and it has brought kids and adults together. I think the adults in the community have seen how much [these kids] are contributing and building a really successful thing.

Beyond the BYC, Emily continues to be involved in the community in a variety of other ways as well. Emily now sits on the Brock Economic Development Advisory Committee to council, where she can give regular updates on the efforts of the BYC and is now regarded as an important link to local youth and their needs. Emily also helps to organize a number of other community events, from Skatefest, to a local food festival, to the Canada Day planning committee. Emily was also very involved in the last federal election, volunteering her time to help with a local candidate.

More Info: Youth Engagement Showcase

The Youth Engagement Showcase has collected nominations of engaged youth, aged 29 and under, from rural communities across Ontario. Four finalists have been selected to be featured in their own short video documentary. The Youth Engagement Showcase will profile some compelling stories of youth engagement to highlight the impact these young leaders can have in their local communities and to demonstrate how rural communities of various shapes and sizes, are successfully engaging and supporting youth in addressing local challenges.

Youth Engagement Showcase Finalist: Eric Duncan

by Rural Ontario Institute 19. January 2016 13:12

Eric Duncan is 28 years old from Winchester, Ontario and was introduced to community service at a very young age. Eric’s family has always been heavily involved in their community, whether through the church, the fire department or their local fair. From the age of 12, Eric remembers getting involved alongside his parents in a variety of different local projects, and he continues to this day with this same dedication to public service. Since he first began getting involved at the age of 12, Eric has sat on roughly 40 different boards and committees. Eric currently sits on 21 different boards and committees.

At the age of 16 Eric began to get more interested in politics and started volunteering for a campaign for a local councillor. When he was 18 there was an opening on Council and, drawing on the experience gained working on this previous campaign, Eric threw his hat in the ring. Having already been involved with council, with an understanding how the local system worked, Eric surprised and impressed many constituents with his ability to intelligently debate and discuss the issues at hand.  Eric was elected to council at 18 years old. Eric later became mayor at 22 years old and is currently serving his second term as Mayor of North Dundas. Further, Eric has been Warden of the United Counties of Stormont Dundas and Glengarry for two years and this year, Eric is also chair of the Eastern Ontario Warden’s Caucus.

Eric has recognized the great opportunity to affect and influence different community betterment projects, stemming from his position as mayor. Eric is particularly proud of some of the accomplishments in economic development in North Dundas. The township has recently hired an economic development officer to help businesses expand and to oversee certain legacy initiatives that will benefit generations to come. Through different grants, they have initiated a community improvement program for revitalizing the downtowns for two local communities and they have worked to update and renew the local arenas and pools.  One major project carried out by the Winchester Downtown Revitalization Committee was the creation of Sweet Corner Park. This project transformed a vacant, gravel lot on the main corner in Winchester into a beautiful park. The project won the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association “safe and healthy community award” in 2012.

Both as Mayor and in his personal time, Eric has been a strong contributor and a valuable asset to his community. His youth and his enthusiasm have been cited by colleagues as a real boost for the local community. Eric is heavily involved (as past president and current executive member) with the Rotary Club in Chesterville and in this role he is often seen at fund raising events throughout the community. Eric spearheads the local Rotary Youth Leadership Awards program (RYLA), a rotary youth leadership event and, alongside a good friend, was instrumental in establishing Camp Erin this past summer. Camp Erin is a bereavement camp for young people in Eastern Ontario, ages 6 – 17, who have experienced a loss in their life.

Camp Erin is important for our community and I’m proud to have contributed to its development. Very often in rural communities we don’t have access to the same kinds of counselling services and people who have the necessary experience working with children who have lost a significant person in their lives.

Camp Erin features grief support and an opportunity for the children to connect through recreational activities and music. Eric was able to enlist other volunteers who were well versed in grief counselling and not only did the children at the camp benefit, but so too did these volunteers.

The local high school recently celebrated a 50th anniversary and Eric was co-chair of the North Dundas District High School 50th reunion weekend celebrations, which raised $20,000 for the school. He continues to be involved with the high school, speaking regularly to classes about civic and governmental issues. Eric was responsible for initiating and promoting an after school recreation program for local youth as he firmly believes in the value of enabling access to healthy recreational programming.

Eric was a founding member of the Nation Valley ATV “Ride for Dad” committee that raises money to support prostate cancer research and awareness. In 2013, Nation Valley ATV Club became the first all-terrain vehicle chapter to start a Ride for Dad rally in Canada. Since then, several clubs have used this model and replicated similar rallies across the country. To date, three very successful local rides have raised over $150,000 for prostate cancer research and awareness.

While Eric has many accomplishments to date, he remains humble and cites the many networks around him as integral to his success, including a group of “second mothers” who have always been there to support his efforts.

More Info: Youth Engagement Showcase

The Youth Engagement Showcase has collected nominations of engaged youth, aged 29 and under, from rural communities across Ontario. Four finalists have been selected to be featured in a short video documentary. The Youth Engagement Showcase will profile some compelling stories of youth engagement to highlight the impact these young leaders can have in their local communities and to demonstrate how rural communities of various shapes and sizes, are successfully engaging and supporting youth in addressing local challenges.

Celebrating leadership with Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence

by Rural Ontario Institute 9. November 2015 14:17

It is our pleasure to share that the Rural Ontario Institute (ROI) was honoured as a recipient of the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence today in Cambridge, Ontario.

This award recognizes two leadership training programs that ROI has developed and delivered across Ontario – BUILD Leadership and the Future Leaders Development Program. These programs have been implemented in partnership with Beef Farmers of Ontario and CanWest DHI, Dairy Farmers of Ontario, EastGen and Holstein Canada respectively.   

“We are very pleased to accept this honour and are proud to continue to deliver programming to increase leadership skills and build capacity of current and emerging leaders in rural Ontario,” says Rob Black, Chief Executive Officer, ROI.


For more information, please see the full news release here.



The federal Liberals respond to rural election questions

by Rural Ontario Institute 19. October 2015 07:54

The Rural Ontario Institute received a response from the Liberals to the questions we sent to each of the four main parties.  You may view and download it below:

Enclosed, please find the Liberal Party of Canada’s formal response to your questionnaire.

For more information on the Liberal Party of Canada’s vision for Canada, please take a moment to review our policies online at This site provides details on a Liberal government’s policies, goals, and priorities. 

On behalf of our Leader, Justin Trudeau, and the entire Liberal team, thank you for writing to identify the major concerns of your membership.

We appreciate your interest in the Liberal Party of Canada’s policies as they relate to the issues which affect you.



Anna Gainey, President

Liberal Party of Canada


LPC Response (Election 2015) - Réponse du PLC (Élection 2015) Rural Ontario Institute.pdf (1.16 mb)


Another Urban – Rural Divide? New funding formula disadvantages Public Health Units serving rural areas

by Rural Ontario Institute 8. October 2015 14:40

This guest blog provided by Dr. Hazel Lynn, Medical Officer of Health, Grey-Bruce Health Unit

Generally, rural residents of Canada are less healthy than their urban counterparts.  They have higher overall mortality rates and shorter life expectancies and are at elevated risk for death from injuries such as motor vehicle collisions and suicide.  They are also disadvantaged for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. - Canadian Institute for Health Information

There is a clear urban-rural divide when it comes to health status of Canadians.  The ten healthiest regions across the country are all metropolitan; the top eight are located in or around the metro areas of Toronto and Vancouver and the remaining two in the Calgary and Quebec City.  Conversely, the ten sickest regions are located in rural and isolated areas of Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan.

In 2013, the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine in the United States published a report on life expectancy and well-being in that country.  Called, “Shorter Lives, Poorer Health” the report concluded: “Government investment in public health infrastructure and attention to the foundational drivers of poor health such as poverty and social isolation should be the major areas of discussion as we work towards achieving a healthier population.”

Unfortunately, recent changes in the funding for local Public Health Units across Ontario provides increases in funding to the urban areas while decreasing funding for the rural, northern and sparsely populated areas.  This new, so called, ‘equity funding formula’ serves  to increase the inequity between the rural and urban residents.

The choice of equity factors considered, the accuracy of the data and the weighting of those criteria are subjective.  Indicators such as the Ontario Marginalization Index (dimensions that contribute to the process of marginalization: residential instability, material deprivation, dependency and ethnic concentration) is problematic as it relies the long form census data which is no longer available. Estimates of the aboriginal population and non-census populations are also inaccurate.  Geography affects not just distance to services but also to food, education and job opportunities which affect our health more than the availability of hospitals and clinics.  Urban populations, particularly those with new immigration and English as a second language, are weighed heavily in the funding formula.  There is no equity in a process that systematically increases funding to the healthiest part of the province at the expense of the least healthy and most disadvantaged.

When introducing the Public Health Act to the British Parliament in 1875, Benjamin Disraeli stated that public health is the foundation for “the happiness of the people and the power of the country.  The care of the public’s health is the first duty of a statesman.”   


 J. Filipp, Z. Gallinger, A. Motskin; Do You Live in One of the Unhealthiest Places in Canada?, The 10 and 3 (online), September 2015, at:

Department of Health and Social Security (U.K), Report of the Working Group on Inequalities in Health, (Black Report), 1980 at:

 S. Woolf, L. Aron, Shorter Lives, Poorer Health, Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, 2013, at:

 R. Bayer, S. Galea, Public Health in the Precision-Medicine Era, The New England Journal of Medicine 373.6, August 2015, at:


Read the resolution from Grey-Bruce Board of Health opposing the new funding formula in light of the impact on rural and northern health units.  

GBHU BOH Resolution 2015-88, Public Health Funding.pdf (913.27 kb)


Poorhouse venue shows Centre-Wellington anything but

by 6. October 2015 14:47

The site of Canada’s oldest remaining ‘poorhouse’ was the venue for a unique announcement this morning. The Wellington County Museum built in 1877 as a government run House of Industry (AKA poorhouse) hosted the launch event for “Vital Signs – Centre Wellington 2015”. Vital Signs is a ten-year old nation-wide community assessment program led by Community Foundations of Canada. This is the first Vital Signs assessment for Centre-Wellington and people from across the region packed Aboyne Hall to witness the release of the inaugural Vital Signs report.

The report reflects the excellent work of many community leaders including Andrew Goldie (Township of Centre Wellington), Paul Holyoke (Social Justice Group), John Kissick (Artist), Barbara Lee (Elora Arts Council), Ron McKinnon (Community Resource Centre), Maddy Smith (Youth Representative), Paul Young (Young Solutions Family Counselling), Toni Ellis, Carolyn Skimson, Susan Thorning, Jean Prichard, Jason Thompson, Nancy Wood, Erin Pratley (Project Manager), Carly Jenkins (Graphic Designer), J. Raymond Soucy (Photographer) and many others.

Thanks to generous support from “The Wellington Advertiser” local citizens will receive a copy of the Vital Signs report with their newspaper this week. We think they will especially enjoy reading the “Belonging and Leadership” section which profiles the positive impact volunteers, engaged citizens and increasing charitable donations all have in making Centre-Wellington a caring community.

The Rural Ontario Institute (ROI) intends to profile one Ontario Vital Signs community in 2016 as part of our Measuring Rural Community Vitality initiative. If you would like more information about Vital Signs and a link to the Centre-Wellington Vital Signs report just click here

Intelligent Community Forum Launches New Connected Countryside Crowd-funding Campaign

by 5. October 2015 10:51

The U.S. based Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) announced the launch of a crowd-funding campaign for its New Connected Countryside project.  For rural Ontarians the campaign is a reminder of a critical issue for the future of rural communities and one not getting as much air time in the federal election as it likely deserves. 

The campaign can be found on Indiegogo here and will be active until November 30. 

The ICF News Release reads:

The New Connected Countryside will counter the severe and rising economic pressure faced by rural communities by providing an online platform where community leaders, residents, institutions and businesses from around the world can connect, exchange advice, share resources and build a global network of peers. The program will also include an annual virtual summit, which will feature experts and thought leaders who will give online presentations and lead panel discussions on important issues for rural communities. The New Connected Countryside is part of ICF’s Rural Imperative initiative.

“The countryside has more to gain from being connected with high-quality broadband than urban areas,” said ICF co-founder Robert Bell. “Since the launch of our Rural Imperative project two years ago, led by ICF senior fellow Dr. Norman Jacknis, we have been working to identify the strategies of rural cities, towns and counties that are prospering in the broadband economy, and to share them. The New Connected Countryside will provide us with a global platform for doing just that while engaging rural community leaders around the world in making positive change for the people they serve.”

A dozen leading rural communities have already committed to participate in the project, from Mitchell, South Dakota and Quitman, Mississippi to Parkland County, Alberta and Wanganui, New Zealand. 


Rural Economic Development (RED) Program Relaunched

by 2. October 2015 10:36

The Ontario government announced it has renewed the RED program and is receiving applications again.   Through the cost-share program rural communities, businesses and organizations can receive funding to help attract investment, create jobs, and boost tourism.   Applications will be reviewed and approved through several intake periods:

•             October 2, 2015 to January 15, 2016

•             January 16, 2016 to April 15, 2016

•             April 16, 2016 to July 15, 2016

•             July 16, 2016 to October 15, 2016

•             October 16, 2016 to January 15, 2017

The renewed program has two streams for applications: a Community Development Stream and a Business Development Stream. Most of the changes to the revamped program were made under the Business Development stream.


Specific details can be found on the OMAFRA website here.